A start-up launched by the ithree institute at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) plans to develop autoimmune drugs after receiving a $1.25 million investment from the Medical Research Commercialisation Fund.
The ithree institute is focused on addressing key challenges in the understanding and control of infectious diseases in humans and animals.
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The MRCF, meanwhile, is a $51 million venture capital fund, established in 2007 and managed by Brandon Capital Partners, with support from the federal government under its Innovation Investment Fund program.
It invests in early stage development and commercialisation opportunities, which arise as a result of ongoing relationships with medical research institutes and allied research hospitals, including the ithree institute.
Following a $1.25 million investment from the MRCF, the ithree institute has launched a new biotech company called Helmedix, which will focus on novel therapies for autoimmune diseases.
This includes rheumatoid arthritis, colitis, psoriasis and multiple sclerosis.
UTS research commercialisation partner, UniQuest, negotiated the agreement for Helmedix to license intellectual property from the ithree institute.
The MRCF funding will enable Helmedix to develop therapeutic peptide drugs based on that IP for preventing and treating immunological diseases.
The Helmedix research team, led by Dr Sheila Donnelly, has identified a number of immune modulating peptides derived from parasitic helminth worms, one of which is effective in suppressing the inflammatory response of the host and has shown therapeutic potential in a mouse model of type 1 diabetes.
This immune modulating activity indicates potential broader application in a variety of other autoimmune diseases.
Dr Stephen Thompson, director of Helmedix and partner at Brandon Capital, says Helmedix is an ideal example of the type of early stage opportunity the MRCF supports.
“Its discoveries have broad potential to impact a number of autoimmune diseases, and we look forward to working with the team to progress the technology further towards commercial development,” he says.
The MRCF investment will help to progress lead optimisation and pre-clinical development of the immune modulating peptides over the next two years.
After that, Helmedix will seek further investment or industry partnerships to move the helminth-derived peptides through clinical development as a treatment for autoimmune and other diseases.
Dean Moss, acting chief executive of UniQuest, applauds the collaboration that took place between the MRCF and the ithree institute in order to launch Helmedix.
“This is the first major start-up investment UniQuest has facilitated for the ithree institute, and our second with the MRCF in the past 12 months,” Dr Moss says.